‘Crossing borders … today is a synonym of death. All the migration paths around the world are marked by graves.’ Thus opens the call for a global day of action against racism and for the rights of migrants, refugees and displaced people on 18 December. Focusing on that most basic right, the right to life, the statement goes on to highlight the 2,000 people who died in the Mediterranean sea in 2011 alone.
As Matthew Carr points out in his essay and in his excellent new book, Fortress Europe: dispatches from a gated continent, these deaths are not an unfortunate consequence of people with choices taking unnecessary risks, but a direct result of the enforcement of the EU’s border regime against people without the luxury of choice. The deaths are flanked by a whole panoply of indignities, brutalities and forms of imprisonment imposed on migrants across Europe.
Carr goes on to argue that Europe needs migration economically, a point backed up by our immigration ‘mythbuster’. A realistic and humane migration policy would start with politicians recognising this. Yet Europe’s demand for migrant workers and its punitive treatment of actual migrants is not necessarily a contradiction. A migrant population cowed by fear of being removed is unlikely to demand better pay and conditions, although there is a better chance of it doing so if it can rely on solidarity from local populations.
While racism in general can act to divide workers against each other, immigration controls specifically function to weaken migrants’ ability to win better conditions. When the state acts against employers who are employing undocumented migrants, it may not be acting in the interest of that one employer, but it is ultimately acting in the interests of the employing class as a whole.
The Labour Party’s record in this matter has been miserable, tailing tabloid prejudice and imposing the kind of neoliberal policies that have gutted communities and made them susceptible to anti-immigrant rhetoric. The process is circular, with Labour politicians then ‘responding’ to concern over immigration that they helped create.
In this context, Ed Miliband’s approach at the Labour conference in September was not as bad as it could have been, concentrating as he did on condemning ‘exploitation’. Nevertheless, to imagine that one can effectively clamp down on the exploitation of precarious migrants while leaving vicious, racist immigration controls in place is akin to thinking the moon is made of cheese.
Where does this leave us in terms of practical politics? As Vittorio Longhi points out, migrants themselves are increasingly leading the way in Italy, France and of course in the US, where mainly Hispanic migrant workers have mobilised in their hundreds of thousands. In the UK there are also a few signs of this approach. The Latin American Workers Association has worked with unions to help cleaners fight highly exploitative conditions in cleaning companies, sometimes through ‘wildcat’ strikes.
But it has also begun to take action against random immigration status checks (producing a ‘bust card’) and against the UK Border Agency’s increasingly frequent dawn raids, organising phone trees among the Latin American community in London. The latter allow a swift response, in some cases managing to block UKBA vans from departing, and at the least preventing neighbours from being disappeared quietly.
We need a popular politics to match this self-organisation. The main refugee charities in the UK concentrate on ‘improving’ the asylum system while helping individual refugees to negotiate their way through a system stacked against them. Other organisations, such as the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants take a ‘human rights-based approach’ to immigration in general, fighting increased restrictions and anti-immigrant propaganda. But to really win migrant rights we need to organise a politics that goes beyond borders.
This might not be as unwinnable as it first seems. A YouGov poll commissioned by the campaign group No One is Illegal this year found that 54 per cent of people surveyed either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: ‘People should be free to live and work wherever they wish, and enjoy all the same rights as all other residents.’ Only 16 per cent disagreed or strongly disagreed. While framing is important in such surveys, and the ability of large numbers of people to hold contradictory views should not be underestimated, the figures do suggest the possibility of the left advancing onto the front foot for once − even if not easily.
In the context of increasing austerity, the danger of not trying to do so is apparent in the rise of Golden Dawn in Greece. But austerity has also provoked cross-border progressive responses with the first multi-country strike action in European history on 14 November. There is also a strong tradition of anti-racism in the workers’ movement that we can build on. Migrant and non-migrant workers face immiseration at the hands of both the EU and its individual member governments at the moment. Let’s build a militant workers’ movement that sees humanity in every face, European or otherwise, and fights for the freedom of everyone to move and live without fear.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill